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Glendale cop hopes for runoff

June 07, 2006|By Tania Chatila

BURBANK ? With early results showing incumbent Lee Baca ahead in the race for Los Angeles County Sheriff, challenger Glendale Police Lt. Don Meredith and his supporters were hopeful Tuesday night that he would hold a strong second place in the race in order to force a run-off.

With only 57.16% of precincts reporting at press time, Baca had 67.23% of the votes, with Meredith in second place with 10.04%.

The three other contenders for the job trailed, with Ken Masse, a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department captain, in third place with 9.9% of the votes; Capt. Ray Leyva, who also serves at the Sheriff's Department, with 8.36%; and Sheriff's Department Sgt. Paul Jernigan Jr. with 4.46% of the vote.

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"It's preliminary," Meredith said. "I'm actually surprised [Baca] had a 66% lead on the absentees. But I'm happy I'm in second because it shows the credibility my campaign has had. And if there is a run-off, it shows I'll be the challenger for that."

In order for Baca to be reelected as head of the Sheriff's Department during the primary election, he must get more than 50% of the votes.

Less than that and he ? or the highest vote-getter ? will face the second-highest vote-getter in the general election in November.

Members of Meredith's campaign were hopeful Tuesday night that Baca and their man would be those two candidates.

"We definitely are the strongest contender," said Lee Avila, Meredith's assistant campaign manager.

Meredith, a 33-year-veteran with the Glendale Police Department, said he ran for sheriff because he wanted to bring some much-needed leadership back to the Sheriff's Department by managing the agency's budget, increasing staffing and keeping inmates in jail.

And no matter how the election turns out, he is sure his campaign has helped forced some positive change in the Sheriff's Department.

"There has been some change in jail management practices and recruitment practices, and that's partly because of this campaign," he said. "We've forced Baca to take accountability, which hasn't been done in the past."

Despite the support Meredith may have from locals who know him, the race will still be tough because Baca has name recognition on his side, said R. Michael Alvarez, a professor of political science at the California Institute of Technology who studies candidate strategy and voter behavior in California elections.

Baca has spent all his 40 years in law enforcement with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, has heavy name recognition in the race.

But Baca also has 7 1/2 years of dismal service as county sheriff, Meredith said.

"He doesn't have the vision to operate the sheriff's department anymore," he said.

But judging from his lead early Tuesday night, the voters apparently think differently, Baca's spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

"He does have the vision to run the Sheriff's Department well into the future and the voters have said so themselves," he said.

Baca and his supporters were "cautiously optimistic" that he would stay at about 66% of the vote and that there would not be a run-off, Whitmore said.

If Meredith were to win, he said he would get right to fixing the problems. If not, he said will begin campaigning for the position in the next four years.

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